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Theater Review (San Diego): Summer Shakespeare Festival at The Old Globe Theatre

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San Diego is a great place to visit in the summer. The weather is mild and there is a lot to do and see, including the famous San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park, but my favorite thing to do is to attend the annual Summer Shakespeare Festival in the Old Globe’s beautiful outdoor Lowell Davies Festival Theatre. This year the theme is love or desire, including young love, old love married love, generational conflict, unrequited love, lust, and love for money. The season consists of Merry Wives of Windsor, Romeo and Juliet, and All’s Well That Ends Well.

The Festival uses one basic frame setting that is altered or dressed up as the play demands. Merry Wives of Windsor, a perennial audience pleaser, is here set in the Old West.
The scenes in the Garter Inn work perfectly in that setting, though later scenes prove to be more awkward because of the inflexibility built into the design of the tavern, which includes a lot of hanging signs, antlers, piano, tables and chairs, etc.

The performances, for the most part, are good, highlighted by the Falstaff of Eric Hoffman, the Mistress Ford of Katie MacNichol, the Mistress Page of Celeste Ciulla, and the delightful Mistress Quickly of Deborah Taylor. Overall I felt the play, often thought of as minor, was not trusted, and the comedy was pushed too hard. Still, the production had plenty of laughs. Paul Mullens was the director.

Romeo and Juliet was a fairly traditional production, but an effective one. Graham Hamilton was a very straightforward Romeo, most effective in his “Banished” scene. His was not a mooning, sighing romantic, but rather a young man deeply in love. His Juliet was the lovely Heather Wood, who reminded me a little of a younger Linda Purl. I loved her in the balcony scene. Owiso Odera's Mercutio was an audience favorite.

For me the joys of this production were some of the smaller roles portrayed by Globe stalwarts. James R. Winker was a strong Friar Lawrence, most effective in his opening monologue – a difficult one because it follows the balcony scene – and in his summary speech at the end of the play, often rattled off but here played fully yet with pace.

Kandis Chappell was a chilly Lady Capulet, who just didn’t know how to handle her daughter and seemed actually frightened of Lord Capulet. Her scene over Tybol'ts body was very effective. Jonathan McMurtry was a triple threat as cousin Capulet, the Apothecary, and Prince Escalus. His last speech was delivered simply and was the best I have ever seen.

The biggest surprise and treat was the performance by an understudy of the Nurse. Deborah Taylor, a superb actress, was out with bronchitis, but Barbara Wengard was terrific and most impressive in the role.

Richard Seer was the director. The beautiful lighting was by York Kennedy.

The best of the lot was the elegant and crystal-clear production of All’s Well That Ends Well as directed by newly appointed Artistic Director Darko Tresnjak. Darko showed his mastery of the space in his blocking, and his skill as a director in making a so-called “problem play” totally comprehensible. Often the two leading characters, Bertram (Graham Hamilton) and Helena (Kimberly Parker Green), can come off as whiny, irritating, spoiled brats. Not so here. Their motives and sincerity were evident and finely detailed.

James R. Winker was most effective as the sickly king. His illness made him irascible, but he was strong and fair in his dealings. Kandis Chappell was radiant as the Countess Rossillion – I always enjoy this consummate artist’s work. Eric Hoffman was an amusing Lavatch, a nearly incomprehensible clown. Bruce Turk played the arrogant, cowardly, braggart soldier Parolles.

If you like your Shakespeare performed well and in the open air, and don’t mind the occasional airplane, put the Summer Shakespeare Festival on your list of “must sees” this summer. Through September 28th at the Old Globe Theatre in lovely Balboa Park.

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